Left in the lurch after Alternative stopped publishing five years ago, most of Henderson’s recent output has come in the form of webcomics and self-published minicomics. This is the first “real” issue of Henderson’s classic Magic Whistle series in quite some time, and it sees Henderson at his best. He’s the master of meta-humor, absurdity, repetition, and most especially the sublime comedic escalation of the dumbest ideas. Take “More of the Same”, for example. It involves Henderson’s go-to comedic trope, the ass joke. Here, the main character has a huge ass, gives people rides on his ass, gets his ass measured, etc. Until he decides he wants to be known for more than his ass and wishes it was gone, and a random person makes his dream come true. Henderson keeps piling on sillier and sillier scenarios that make the man regret his decision (not the least of which is the wish-giver popping up and taunting him by yelling, “No ass!”) until it’s all just a dream. Except the man wishes for three asses and “Here we go again!”
What makes Henderson so great is the way he deliberately creates a tension between a rock-solid and predictable plot structure and the stupidity of his premise. One of his greatest creations is “Lonely Robot Duckling”, and the story in this issue finds that character plaintively asking an office worker, “What … is … an … pornography?” After several panels of the worker trying to correct the duckling’s grammar, the duckling gets the man to yell, “I want some pornography!” loud enough for a fellow worker to hear. That pattern gets repeated when the duckling asks to be shown pornography, leading to this great sentence: “This … is … what … you … earth … people … jerk … off … to? It … is … weak …” (Henderson using an all-caps, typewritten font instead of his own lettering for the duckling is just part of why it’s so funny.) That of course leads to the worker showing the duckling all manner of perversions, the duckling disappearing again and the worker getting fired. Henderson lays the narrative pipe in such a way that he knows that the reader knows what’s coming and still makes it funny.
Henderson is well aware that the reader is aware of how meta this all is, with a cartoon involving a wolf and a flamingo and a dozen narrative captions explaining every aspect of the drawing and the joke and a final caption that reads, “You’re right. It does kind of ruin the joke (such as it is) when I over-explain everything.” My favorite strips may have been “Monroe Simmons Looks Back”, which are a sort of quasi-autobiographical series of vignettes about weird things he saw in Woodstock, NY as he was growing up: sadistic P.E. teachers, hippies shouting down kids’ plays about the government, teachers of uncertain sexuality, and dubious ways of getting across a stream. The issue is just jammed with dozens of more gags all heightened by his perfect, simplistic, bold line.